In 2012, Hamilton Seymour lost his father to suicide. The event left 15 year old Seymour, a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe from Bellingham, suffering. Seymour wanted to find a positive way to cope with the loss. In doing so, he found healing through paddling his canoe.

Seymour told the Seattle Times that canoeing has been a great help, “It’s my personal outlet. It’s where I can get away, even if I’m with people.”

Seymour’s family has a strong tradition of paddling. His father was a champion paddler. “He was a phenomenal man,” Seymour said, “and I’d like to carry out his name and his spirit through paddling. … I feel like paddling is only one of the few things that I have left of him.”

Paddling helped Seymour handle stress and improved his mental health. Now, Seymour is encouraging other members of his tribe to cope with grief by carving canoes and celebrating their culture by singing traditional Native songs as they paddle. Through this, Seymour hopes to keep the culture alive through traditional sports. He has recruited 11 other teens to help him paddle canoes during races.

Seymour’s efforts are helping his community, “What paddling is doing for us is getting us stronger — obviously physically, but also mentally, spiritually and emotionally. It’s just beautiful.”

Seymour’s work in his community is gaining attention. Earlier this year, Seymour, along with five Indian youth from across the United States, won a “champion of change” award from the Center for Native American Youth. The award recognizes Native youth who are making a difference in their communities by drawing attention to issues such as sexual abuse and suicide.

In addition to winning the award, Seymour was chosen to introduce Michelle Obama before her speech at the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering in Washington D.C.

Seymour’s friends say that he has grown a lot. Sarah Scott, a Lummi Nation’s tribal youth-recreation program mentor, commented on Seymour’s growth, “I’ve known Hammi my whole life — he’s our baby. In the last year, he’s just blossomed into this natural leader on a national platform, and to me that is just so inspiring.”

Seymour also feels that his life is changing for the better, “I can’t tell the future, but I’m really hoping, and I really feel like it’s going to be great.”

Jowelle M. is a college student interested in sociology, political science, and Spanish. Aside from academics, Jowelle enjoys blogging, reading, music, and spending time with family. She is happiest when she is working with others to improve the community.